Don’t Make Any Assumptions

A while ago I wrote some tips on how to quickly hire a new nanny (or maid) into your home. I wanted to offer further advice on this topic. The below are some areas to be mindful of, once you have chosen a successful candidate. I think that this advice is really only relevant to nannies in Indonesia, and is taken from my own (and friends) experiences while living in Jakarta.

Firstly, even if you have asked thorough questions about their abilities during the interviewing process, and she has met your requirements, conduct further diligence by not making any assumptions whatsoever. When I first moved to Jakarta, I made many assumptions about my new nanny, based on my previous experience with nannies in Singapore. This was a big mistake, so I’m sharing a few with you now.

I find that candidates can be very nervous during interviews and can sometimes agree with you, or answer ‘yes’ to your questions because she is either scared to say ‘no’, unwilling to tell you the whole truth, or simply doesn’t understand the question! Especially if you have a strong accent like I do, she may not understand what you are asking and answer ‘yes’ anyway. So don’t be surprised that, if after she starts working with you, you discover things that may not be completely true. This may have been a result of simple miscommunication (due to language barriers), rather than a deliberate lie or fallacy on her part.

So, once you are comfortable with your decision for a new nanny, the following are areas that you need to be mindful of:

1. Training – Please don’t make any assumptions about her previous training and her child minding capabilities. She may have lots of experience, or may have come from an agency, however the profession (and I use that word very lightly) of being a nanny in Jakarta is not a trained one. Anyone can become a nanny. From as young as 15, many girls are taken out of school and sent to work in order to support their parents. No experience or training is required to start working. Most agencies do not offer any kind of training either.

Also, previous employers may do things differently to you and have completely different expectations from their nannies. I have found that every culture and nationality has different ideas on what their nanny should do. So don’t assume that just because your (insert nationality here) friend recommends her wonderful friend’s nanny to you, that this nanny will meet your needs and expectations.

2. Health – Another assumption that you shouldn’t make about your nanny is that she has been immunized and is free of contagious diseases. Send your new nanny to the nearest local clinic to do a health test. As far as being immunized, she may have had some childhood vaccinations but I’ve found it incredibly difficult to determine which vaccinations they are exactly, even when I’ve had an English speaking Indonesian nurse to translate. Personally, I haven’t immunized my staff members because it’s so difficult to get the right vaccination here and it’s extremely expensive. Instead, I make sure that my family is immunized. A health check will show if she has any contagious diseases that you should be concerned with. You may also need to do follow up checks, especially after she’s had time off (ie. During Ramadan).

3. First aid – I sent my nanny and maid to a First Aid course specifically tailored for nannies and is taught in Bahasa. But I suggest withholding such courses until they are past their probation period and is completely comfortable working with you. Sending her to a course early may intimidate or scare her. Also, don’t be surprised if she’s not interested in attending. I have found that many nannies are not interested in learning any new skills, including First Aid, even if it’s for the safety of your child and you insist. For me, this is a Red Flag that she is not right for my family, so this may be a point to raise during interview, to see if she is actually interested in further training of any kind.

4. Food and feeding your children – Ask your nanny to show you how she makes formula, based on what’s written on the can. This sounds like a simple task but you may be surprised by the outcome. I find that simple maths and measurements are not a common skill understood by nannies, so you may need to teach her a few basic calculations. Ie. My nanny didn’t know where 90ml was on the milk bottle because it wasn’t marked. I had to show her that is was slightly below the 100ml mark.

Also, don’t assume that your nanny has the same understanding of what is healthy and is acceptable food for your child. You will need to be very specific with what’s allowed and not allowed, even where and when. I had a nanny that was about to give my son some salt to snack on (with a spoon) because he pointed to it and had asked for it. He was only 2! I quickly had to tell her that it’s not ok to feed him salt and he is only allowed to snack from his specific baby food items on a special shelf in the cupboard.

Even if you are at home to prepare all of your children’s meals, you still need to provide information on what your nanny can feed your child and how much. I find that nannies try their hardest to feed your child the whole serving, and will do anything possible to get your child to eat, including following them around the house, spoon feeding as they play (and over feeding until they vomit)! If this is acceptable for you, then that’s fine. But for our house, all meals are to be eaten on the dinner table and I don’t expect my child to finish their whole meal, every single time. Sometimes they are not hungry and are allowed to refuse a meal. I have taught my nannies that they are not failing by feeding my children less than their whole serving.

5. Acceptable behavior and discipline- My nanny once gave my son a bath at a very strange time (out of his routine) and when I asked her why, she said because he asked for one! He wasn’t dirty. She just did it to please him. I had to explain to her that she is the nanny here and my son is to listen to her and not the other way around. And she can say ‘no’ to him. I find that the Indonesian nannies do not like to say ‘no’ to children, or have the idea that they are doing a bad job by saying ‘no’. They want to make us happy and think that this is achieved by saying ‘yes’ to your child’s every demand and not letting them cry.

I also however, do not ask my nanny to discipline my child. She can certainly say ‘no’ to him and ask him to apologize if he’s done something wrong (like hitting his sister) but that is as far as it goes. I see this as my responsibility only and I do not trust this important role with my 19 year old nanny, nor do I think it’s fair to expect this from her. This works well in my household because I am a stay at home parent, and I use my nanny for more practical tasks like nappy changing, not disciplining or educating my child. There are of course nannies out there who are suitably trained and experienced with raising children and can play a more active role in their behavior and education. You just can’t assume that all nannies will know what’s appropriate disciplinary behavior and will manage a situation the same way that you would like her to, without seeing it for yourself, firsthand.

6. Water Safety- Many Western cultures learn how to swim at a very young age and assume that everyone else knows how to swim too. Most nannies won’t be able to swim and I don’t think you necessarily need to hire one that does. What’s important is that she understands that you expect her to jump into the water to retrieve your child, should they happen to fall into a pool. Please don’t assume that your nanny will do this. Most nannies are either too scared of water and of drowning themselves, fearful of security restrictions of the condo (ie. no household staff in the pool), or simply panic in these events!

So spend time with her around the pool and try to make her comfortable with jumping in, in an emergency. I don’t let me nannies take my children swimming but if they accidentally fall into the condo’s pool while walking past with my nanny, I want to know that my nanny will feel comfortable jumping in to save them! Don’t assume that your nanny will feel the same way about this!

This is my list and I’m sure that there are so many more points to be raised but the most important advice that I would give fir introducing a new nanny into your home is not to make any assumptions.  Continue to ask questions (because the answer is probably always changing!), and have conversations with each other. Over time, you will both start to create your own flow together.

Please share your advice with me and a circumstance where you made an assumption with your nanny (or household staff) that you probably shouldn’t have. Please be mindful that this is not the forum for negative insults or comments.

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